Senate Invokes Cloture on Unemployment Insurance — Again

House passage still appears unlikely, despite efforts from Senate Republicans.

The U.S. Captiol dome is seen before work begins on a two-year, $60 million rnovation of March 19, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
April 3, 2014, 11:28 a.m.

The Sen­ate once again agreed to clo­ture on a five-month ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits Thursday, but this time with even few­er Re­pub­lic­an votes than be­fore. Sixty-one sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing six Re­pub­lic­ans, voted for the clo­ture agree­ment, com­pared with last week’s vote when 10 Re­pub­lic­ans joined the Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity to move the bill along.

Sens. Dan Coats, R-Ind., Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Ron John­son, R-Wis., voted no on clo­ture Thursday after vot­ing in fa­vor of clo­ture last week.

The clo­ture agree­ment sets up a vote on fi­nal pas­sage for Monday, when Demo­crats will only need sup­port from 51 of their own mem­bers to pass the meas­ure. But the drop in the num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans vot­ing for clo­ture does not bode well for the bill’s fu­ture.

Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans alike have sug­ges­ted that the high­er the over­all vote total from Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, the more likely it is that Speak­er John Boehner will take up the ex­ten­sion in the House. Boehner has re­peatedly in­sisted that the Sen­ate un­em­ploy­ment bill does not meet his re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing that it must con­tain a job-cre­ation pro­vi­sion, for House con­sid­er­a­tion.

Few­er Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans joined the clo­ture vote on Thursday in large part be­cause of the way the amend­ment pro­cess was handled by the Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans tried Wed­nes­day and Thursday to at­tach a num­ber of en­ergy and jobs-re­lated amend­ments to the un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance ex­ten­sion bill that could have met Boehner’s threshold, but were shot down by Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id.

The main fo­cus for Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans was a pro­posed amend­ment from Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., which would ac­com­plish a num­ber of long-time GOP goals that have strong op­pos­i­tion in the Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity. The amend­ment’s pro­vi­sions, a con­glom­er­ate of pro­pos­als from a vari­ety of Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors, read like a con­ser­vat­ive Christ­mas list: They would au­thor­ize the Key­stone XL pipeline, re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act, block new emis­sions reg­u­la­tions from the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency, in­clude the Skills Act re­forms of fed­er­al-work­force train­ing pro­grams (which has already passed the House), and pro­hib­it a car­bon tax, among oth­er things.

However, as with so many oth­er bills to hit the Sen­ate floor over the past sev­er­al months, the bill pro­ceeded with only Demo­crat­ic amend­ments.

Demo­crats ar­gue that the bill is a job cre­at­or in and of it­self, cit­ing a re­port from the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice not­ing that a year-long ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance would cre­ate 200,000 jobs by the end of 2014. The cur­rent meas­ure, however, ex­tends be­ne­fits for five months only and be­cause the le­gis­la­tion is ret­ro­act­ive, it would ex­pire in May.

Re­pub­lic­ans dis­miss the CBO es­tim­ate, des­pite their wide use of a sep­ar­ate CBO re­port to dis­cred­it Demo­crat­ic ef­forts to raise the min­im­um wage. CBO es­tim­ated earli­er this year that a $10.10 min­im­um wage would cost the coun­try 500,000 jobs by 2016.

“The CBO can only score what’s put in front of them. And at a cer­tain point, com­mon sense has to be part of the equa­tion. It is com­mon sense that if you raise the cost of em­ploy­ment, you will get less em­ploy­ment,” a House Re­pub­lic­an aide said, re­fer­ring to the Demo­crat­ic ef­forts to raise the min­im­um wage. “It is also com­mon sense that you can’t cre­ate jobs by giv­ing people money not to work.”

Re­gard­less, the un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance bill is ex­pec­ted to pass the Sen­ate on Monday. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who helped to form the fi­nal le­gis­la­tion, said Thursday that his col­leagues had a num­ber of reas­ons for vot­ing against clo­ture and that he is hope­ful more will sign on with the bill Monday even­ing to give it mo­mentum as it heads to the lower cham­ber. “I think in the fi­nal vote, you’ll see that vote come back up,” he said.

Heller said he has already be­gun dis­cuss­ing the is­sue with House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship. An aide to House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy con­firmed that Heller called to dis­cuss un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, but said that the con­ver­sa­tion was very gen­er­al.

Heller said this week that he was fo­cused largely on passing the meas­ure through the Sen­ate, and would be­gin his con­ver­sa­tions with House Re­pub­lic­ans in earn­est after the bill has cleared the Sen­ate. Asked wheth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans had in­dic­ated an open­ness to tak­ing up the bill, Heller re­spon­ded: “The rhet­or­ic wouldn’t say so, you know, today.”

But, Heller said, he ex­pects to get a fair hear­ing. “I an­ti­cip­ate that they’ll listen to me,” Heller said. “I have a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the speak­er, a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with lead­er­ship on their side, so I’ll have some con­ver­sa­tions with them. So I’ll find out how eager they are.”

Boehner spokes­man Mi­chael Steel agreed that Heller, who served in the House for just over four years be­fore be­ing ap­poin­ted to former Sen. John En­sign’s seat, main­tains a pos­it­ive re­la­tion­ship with lead­er­ship. “He was a well-liked House Mem­ber,” Steel said in an email.

Heller plans to speak with Boehner next week about the ex­ten­sion, dis­miss­ing the speak­er’s claims that the Sen­ate le­gis­la­tion is “un­work­able.” “‘Un­work­able,’ I think is ques­tion­able. “¦ I think it’s work­able. The Labor Sec­ret­ary says its work­able, Nevada says its work­able. If some states can do it, then all states can do it. So, any­way that’ll be the top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion,” Heller said.

Heller also noted that the bill already has the sup­port of his home state’s del­eg­a­tion in the House, not­ing that Nevada has one of the highest un­em­ploy­ment rate’s in the coun­try.

He ad­ded the Sen. Rob Port­man’s sup­port could help to bring Boehner on board as well. “I do need to know what mo­tiv­ates him,” Heller said of Boehner. “I think with Port­man’s sup­port on the le­gis­la­tion, [makes me feel] in my opin­ion that it’s good for Ohio. And the speak­er be­ing from Ohio, maybe that sends a mes­sage.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who co-sponsored the Sen­ate bill said he too will urge House Re­pub­lic­ans to take up the bill as quickly as pos­sible, not­ing that with just a five-month ex­ten­sion “there is a very short win­dow” for pas­sage, per­haps as little as a few weeks.

Reed dis­missed con­cerns that the House would need to take nearly as long with the bill as the Sen­ate did (the Sen­ate began work on the le­gis­la­tion in early Janu­ary). “My re­col­lec­tion of the House [is] they can move very quickly. We are a much more de­lib­er­at­ive body. And we demon­strated great de­lib­er­ate­ness in this pro­cess,” Reed joked.

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